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Roberto appointed director of Tech's gerontology center

By Sandy Broughton

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 02 - September 5, 1996

People are living longer lives, and remaining healthy and active longer. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the fastest-growing segment of the population is 65 years or older and, beginning this year, a baby boomer turns 50 years old every seven seconds. The burgeoning elderly population means that gerontology has emerged nation-wide as a critical area of research. Karen Roberto, the newly appointed director of the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Tech, says she plans to capitalize on the growing interest in aging issues to further the center's multidisciplinary research in lifespan development.

"I saw this position at Virginia Tech as an opportunity to be in an environment that supports and encourages the kind of research needed to address the critical issues of aging: family relationships, health concerns, social policies, economics, housing, and community resources," Roberto said. "The Center for Gerontology at Virginia Tech is firmly established and has an outstanding reputation, as do my colleagues across campus who deal with the issues of aging. While the center's focus is on applied research, we also support gerontological education and are involved in community outreach activities. I hope to build upon this focus and promote the use of research teams."

The Center for Gerontology at Virginia Tech was established in 1977 to foster multidisciplinary activities in the field of aging. It is supported by the university and housed in the College of Human Resources and Education. Currently, there are 19 faculty members from across the university affiliated with the center. Their research, education, and outreach subjects include family and friend relationships, the neuropsychological aspects of aging, age and age-related disease effects, demographic and population studies of older adults, retirement planning, and the design of living spaces for older adults.

The Tech Center is also part of the Warm Hearth Village research consortium. With Radford University and New River Community College, the consortium addresses the needs of Virginia's elderly.

Roberto comes to Virginia Tech from the University of Northern Colorado, where she was a professor and coordinator of the gerontology program. Her research focuses on the psychosocial aspects of aging, particularly family and friend relationships in later life, and coping abilities of older women with chronic health problems.

She has published more than 60 articles and book chapters on these topics, and is the editor of three books: Relationships Between Women in Later Life, Older Women and Chronic Pain, and The Elderly Caregiver: Caring for Adults with Developmental Disabilities. Roberto is a fellow of the Gerontological Society of America and the book review editor for the Journal of Women and Aging.

Roberto's current research is on how older adults and their families make critical health decisions, and how they want their families involved in them. The project is funded by the AARP Andrus Foundation. In addition to directing the Center for Gerontology, Roberto is a professor in the Department of Family and Child Development in the College of Human Resources and Education.

Roberto will be the initial speaker at the Center for Gerontology's annual Fall Forum Series, September 11, 3:30 p.m. in the Wallace Hall atrium. She will present "Health and Well-Being in Later Life: the Importance of Family and Friends." The presentation will include the values and processes used by older adults when making critical health-care decisions, coping strategies for older adults with chronic illness, and the importance of friendships in the lives of older men and women. The Center for Gerontology's Fall Forum Series is open to the public and the university community.